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Dole Endorses Prop. 187 Limits on Schooling

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Embracing one of the controversial tenets of California’s Proposition 187, Bob Dole asserted Wednesday that teaching the children of illegal immigrants is “one of the most expensive mandates of all time” and pushed for passage of a congressional proposal that would allow all states to deny public education to such students.

“The states provide a free education to people who by our own laws should not be in the United States,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told a group of several hundred educators and workers at a Woodland Hills computer wholesaling company. “I don’t believe it’s fair to impose these burdens on the states.”

As he wrapped up a three-day trip to California, Dole’s focus on immigration found him hewing the same line that helped reelect Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994. But as often happens when Dole takes to the podium, he managed to mangle several lines in a rambling speech. In a reference to the nation’s multiethnic heritage, he told his audience: “We are a boiling pot. We have open arms.”

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The crowd at El Camino Resources Ltd. was a nonpartisan one that did not warm to the candidate’s address. The audience listened politely but responded with only occasional and scattered applause.

Dole got a better reception--and gave a better speech--an hour later at a nearby GOP rally that ended his California campaign swing. About 1,000 supporters filled the bleachers at Trillium Plaza, where Dole addressed the group from the middle of a tennis court.

El Camino Resources, which has donated 500 computers to local schools through the years, was chosen by the Dole campaign as his main political landscape to make a not-so-subtle point: This is what the state could do with its money if it didn’t have to pay for the education of illegal immigrant children.

If California did not spend an estimated $1.8 billion annually to educate these students, Dole said, the state “could hire 51,000 new teachers . . . could reduce the pupil-teacher ratio to less than 20 to 1. Or you could build over 2,340 new classrooms in California. Or you could put 3.6 million more of these computers in the schools. So that’s the choice.”

Calling California “the most culturally diverse population in America,” Dole noted that the state’s voters in 1994 overwhelmingly endorsed Prop. 187, the initiative that would prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving an array of services--including public education--and is currently on appeal in federal court.

He then expressed his support for the legislative effort spearheaded by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) to permit states to keep children of illegal immigrants out of public schools.

Gallegly’s effort, Dole said, “is about fairness. . . . It is about helping the children of California.”

Trying to sound a compassionate note, Dole said he had supported the North American Free Trade Agreement designed to improve trade relations between the United States and Mexico and told his listeners: “It’s not that we don’t care. It’s not that we’re not compassionate. Where do you draw the line?”

The Gallegly amendment is contained in a wide-ranging immigration reform bill that passed the House earlier this year. But Dole, although he has now endorsed the ban twice on the campaign trail, failed as Senate majority leader to get it included in the upper chamber’s immigration legislation earlier this year.

Senate sources said at the time that the votes were not there for Dole to push the matter.

Still, his comments come at a critical time on Capitol Hill as House and Senate conferees begin work on a compromise immigration package. The schooling ban is one of the key sticking points, one that President Clinton has said could prompt a veto.

Dole’s endorsement could cause at least a few Republican senators to support the schooling ban--not so much because they agree with the concept but to provide a key wedge issue for the presidential campaign, some analysts say.

“The Republican leadership wants a juicy campaign issue rather than passage of a politically popular bill,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a coalition of immigrant rights groups.

Clinton campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart said Dole’s comments were “another example of Bob Dole running against Bob Dole.” He cited a 1982 congressional vote in which Dole opposed legislation that would bar the children of illegal immigrants from public schools.

But Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield responded: “In the intervening years, the need for a legislative solution has become clear and compelling.”

While some in the audience at El Camino Resources were loath to comment on Dole’s speech, Manijeh K. Nikakhtar, a UCLA professor, gave Dole strong support. “I’m a legal immigrant,” said the Iranian woman. “I work hard and I want the money to be spent on our own kids.”

But Los Angeles Board of Education President Mark Slavkin, who also was at the speech, took umbrage at its tenor.

“What was incredibly brazen today was his idea that if we can get rid of illegal immigrant kids, there’ll be plenty of computers to go around for everyone else,” said Slavkin, who faced an unsuccessful recall drive after the school board voted to fight Prop. 187 in court.

“The thrust of it was, ‘This is a sinking lifeboat and somebody’s got to get thrown overboard,” Slavkin said.

As he did throughout his California visit, Dole took Clinton to task for what the Republican claims is the president’s failure to help California. Clinton, he said, promised in 1992 that the federal government would control the border with Mexico, but then as president went on to cut funding for the Border Patrol.

Illegal immigration “represents a drain on public resources . . . with a disproportionate impact on California,” he said. “So it’s bad enough that the federal government has failed to properly secure the borders. It’s worse that the federal government tells the states they have to pay for it.”

At Dole’s second stop in the San Fernando Valley, the cheering crowd at Trillum Plaza sported sun hats and umbrellas and waved signs exhorting the candidate to “Just Do It Dole” and proclaiming “Your Life is Incomplete Without Dole.”

As the candidate strode in, a band struck up the song “Taking Care of Business.” A small contingent of Democrats waved “Clinton/Gore” signs, and anti-tobacco protesters, who have populated most Dole rallies since he expressed doubts last week that nicotine is addictive, handed out leaflets.

Dole continued his onslaught against what he calls the “Clinton war on California,” a theme from his earlier appearances in Northern California and the Central Valley.

That line of argument appeared to strike a chord with Charmaine Boos of Calabasas. “I don’t think [Clinton] has California’s best interests at heart,” she said.

Dole also sought to reach out to Democrats, younger voters and Republicans who may not agree with all of his positions.

“We are a big, big party,” he told the cheering crowd. “We are a tolerant party to those who have other opinions. Join the party. . . . I want to thank all the young people in the audience. This is really about you.”

Times staff writers Marc Lacey, Amy Pyle, Peter Warren, Bill Stall and Henry Chu contributed to this story.


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